Dan Carbin is a young(ish) professional who has been actively engaged in politics in three countries for more than two decades. He pays his bills working as a public affairs consultant in Toronto.
In just over a month, Toronto is going to have a new mayor. And when you head to the polls on October 27th to vote for the new leader of our city (as well as city council members), we want you to be informed.
So over the next three weeks we’ll be profiling the three leading candidates for mayor – Doug Ford, John Tory, and Olivia Chow – with the goal of cutting through the clutter and offering the straight goods you need to assess each candidate’s suitability for the job and how their election would impact you and your city.
Last week, we started off with a profile of John Tory, while this week we dive into everything Doug Ford brings to the table…
DOUG FORD: The Big Brother
Never before has a lowly first-term Toronto city councillor held such a grip over city hall.
Doug Ford entered politics in 2010 when his younger brother Rob Ford decided to launch a long-shot campaign for mayor. Doug returned from Chicago, where he had been overseeing the successful US-expansion of the family firm, Deco Labels and Tags. He came back to run for the Etobicoke council seat that Rob had held for fourteen years before stepping down in his quest for the mayoralty. Since 1999, Doug had been living mostly out of the country, but his long absence didn’t seem to matter to voters in Etobicoke who elected Doug to city council in a landslide.
With Rob Ford also winning a resounding victory for mayor, the two Ford brothers were well placed to dictate the agenda at city hall. Although Doug was formally just a councillor, in practice he became much more.
As Rob’s closest advisor and most pugnacious defender, Doug was the most visible spokesperson for the Ford mayoralty, often sparring with reporters or council enemies when Rob was otherwise indisposed. Soon, whispers began to emerge around city hall that Doug, not Rob, was really calling the shots at City Hall. While the affable Rob was the figurehead, Doug was making decisions and pushing forward policies – even if they were ill-considered schemes to introduce monorails, Ferris wheels, and megamalls to our waterfront.
While the Globe and Mail alleges that Doug misspent a significant portion of his youth running a high-volume hashish distribution racket, he seems to have lived a pretty clean life since, especially in comparison with his inebriate brother Rob. When Rob entered rehab for his substance-abuse issues rumours began to circulate that he would drop out of the mayor’s race and make way for Doug to run in his place. This chatter began to intensify when rumours spread in political circles that other compromising videos of Rob (involving non-crack related indiscretions) were doing the rounds. It was thought that Doug could carry forward the Ford-agenda without the associated personal baggage.
Given the dynamic, it was surprising to almost no one in political circles when the Ford family responded to the shocking news that Rob had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer with an announcement that Rob would exit the mayoral race and Doug would stand in his place.
Doug Ford’s message to voters is simple. If they elect him they will get ‘Ford More Years’ at city hall.
Like younger brother Rob, Doug claims he will root out unnecessary spending, make services more efficient through out-sourcing and keep taxes as low as possible. Property taxes, he promises, will grow less than the rate of inflation throughout his term as mayor. Doug argues that he is the only candidate voters can really trust to be miserly with the public purse.
Doug is also running on a promise to intensify Rob Ford’s call for Subways! Subways! Subways! Doug recently released an ambitious plan to add 32kms of new subway lines across the city at an estimated cost of $9B, all without increasing property taxes. The plan has been mostly panned by critics who have suggested that it is significantly under-costed and would take decades to implement. Many also chuckled when the map identifying proposed new subway lines misspelled the names of three major Toronto streets.
While pundits might dismiss the Doug Ford subway plan as completely unrealistic, it is unlikely that Doug is sweating the implementation details. His plan is aimed squarely at those voters who feel that streetcars and surface rail just don’t make sense in a growing, traffic-choked, sub-arctic metropolis. These voters want subways, they want them now, and they certainly don’t want to hear that they are only possible with massive new taxes.
The Inside Scoop:
Although Doug is viewed as the smarter, more articulate half of the Ford-double act, there are significant questions about his attractiveness as a political candidate.
Doug Ford is reviled by many of his colleagues on council due to his sharp tongue and willingness to use aggressive tactics to score political points. Reporters have complained consistently about Doug’s tendency to avoid answering questions, engage in ad hominem attacks, and impugn the integrity of members of the press.
Of course, almost identical critiques were launched about Rob Ford when he first launched his successful mayoral campaign back in 2010.
The real issue for Doug is that he doesn’t appear to have the same deep personal connection to voters that Rob Ford has. For all of his foibles, Rob Ford is still viewed by a significant minority of the electorate as someone who is squarely on their side. Rob’s affable nature, accessibility to individual constituents, and willingness to take on the “establishment” have helped him to build support from Torontonians who have long felt abandoned by the political process. Indeed, Rob Ford’s populist appeal transcends traditional party lines – while he undeniably appeals to fiscal conservatives, perhaps the most vocal and loyal members of Ford nation have been those who have felt marginalised outside the broader civic life of Toronto.
It is questionable whether Doug will be able to make the emotional connection to this broad swath of the electorate. Will Doug Ford be able to mobilize and grow Ford nation enough to sweep him to victory on October 27th? The jury is still out.
The Path to Victory
Recent polls suggest that Doug Ford has indeed managed to hold onto roughly the same level of support that Rob enjoyed before pulling out of the race. Doug’s strategy of branding his campaign as a strict continuation of the Rob Ford mayoralty seems to be working in that respect.
The challenge for Doug is that he has had zero success so far in growing his support beyond the remaining rump of the core Ford Nation voting block – currently around 25% of the voting public.
According to an Ipsos Reid Poll released on September 27th, support for Doug Ford now sits at 26% (the same as Olivia Chow), while John Tory’s declared support has soared to 48%.
Closing a 20-point gap in under a month will be tough.
To succeed, Doug will have to have to convince wayward members of Ford Nation (those who voted for Rob in 2010) to come back into the fold and work to significantly supress the support of chief rival John Tory.
Doug’s plan is to position himself as the only real fiscal conservative in the race. His campaign has been attacking Tory as a proliferate spendthrift. The message is clear: Doug Ford is the only bulwark against run-away spending at city hall.
Doug Ford has also attempted to cast himself as a fighter for the common-man. Despite his own privileged upbringing, Doug has repeatedly slammed Tory as an out-of-touch “elitist” who would place the interests of a select few above those of the general public.
Expect the attacks on Tory to intensify over the next few weeks. Ford’s goal is to create as much doubt in the public mind about Tory as possible. The hope is that prospective Tory voters will think twice and will either shift their support to him, vote for Olivia Chow, or stay home on Election Day. All three potential outcomes improve Doug’s chance of becoming mayor. With a 20 point gap, reducing Tory’s support is almost as important as growing his own vote.
Vote for Doug Ford if:
– You think that John Tory is a bike-riding pinko in disguise.
– You can’t imagine how dull city politics would be without the Fords at the centre of things.
– You believe strongly that new subway lines (even if they are never built) are still a better option than actual new streetcars, LRTs, and buses.
– All that matters to you is keeping property taxes low.
Images courtesy of Doug Ford Facebook Account